State News

Judge sets April trial for former Easley aide

Posted February 10, 2010 4:02 a.m. EST
Updated February 10, 2010 4:53 p.m. EST

— A federal judge on Wednesday set an April trial date for an ex-aide to former Gov. Mike Easley on 51 corruption-related charges.

Saying it was in the best interest of both sides to bring the case against Ruffin Poole to a speedy conclusion, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle said the trial would begin April 26.

Poole, 38, was Easley's legal counsel and trusted adviser during the governor's two terms in office.

Boyle said he's open to moving the date back if either the prosecutors or Poole's attorneys can demonstrate that they cannot be prepared for trial by then.

Prosecutors previously suggested a trial begin on May 17, but Poole's lawyer, Joe Zeszotarski, asked the trial not start before Aug. 9, noting there's potentially thousands of pages of e-mail evidence from the government that he needs to review.

A federal grand jury last month indicted Poole on charges of extortion, bribery, racketeering, money laundering and mail fraud.

The grand jury has in recent months been investigating Easley's dealings with friends and contributors while in office, but Easley wasn't named in the indictment.

The indictment notes that Poole became known among Easley's top contributors as "Little Governor" because he was the person tasked with resolving any problems donors faced with state regulators and with lining up appointments for them to serve on state boards and commissions.

In exchange for his work, the donors gave Poole gifts like free concert tickets and trips, according to the indictment. One paid for Poole's bachelor party in New Orleans, and another bought $600 in liquor for his wedding.

Poole also was allowed to invest in coastal real estate developments at the same time as he was working to secure permits for those projects from state regulators, according to the indictment.

The indictment alleges Poole never reported any of the gifts on his annual financial disclosure forms to the state Ethics Commission and used his family's construction firm to handle money he received through the real estate investments.